As a marketing organization, the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) does an excellent job, and is of great value to our industry and our valley. But they’re tone deaf when it comes to land-use politics, generally taking the wrong side and causing consternation within our community.

As marketers, the NVV seeks to be on the side of the politically correct. Others believe that reasonable regulations and long-term economic viability are more important than short-term marketing gains. As a past NVV director and 1986 Wine Auction chairman, I quit NVV years ago over their poorly conceived land-use positions. Once again, NVV has gone off the political rails over land use.

Their proposed solution in search of a problem is called the “Watershed & Oak Woodlands Initiative” (Napa Valley Register “Watershed initiative is reborn,” Sept. 10). If this initiative is approved, new vineyards in the oak woodlands will be prohibited, buffer zones up to 125 feet wide will be required along water courses and a County permit will be required to cut any oak over 5 inches in diameter and a County “Use Permit” will be required for cutting 10 or more oaks.

NVV has lost its moral compass. It’s crucial to note that the initiative exempts all existing vineyards and the replanting of all vineyards. The most affected by this initiative are those who haven’t already developed their vineyard, property or home. NVV wants to award itself a big shiny Environmental Merit Badge, not for the hard work and sacrifice of its members, but for the sacrifice to be made by those non-exempted landowners. Clearly the NVV learned from the old political adage “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me – tax that guy behind the tree.”

When you encounter vintners or growers who support this initiative, ask them if their vineyard, home or barn is set back from the top of any stream bank by 125 feet as this initiative requires for new development in the Ag Watershed … or are they exempted?

If we espouse environmentalism, shouldn’t we all, without exception, do our part for the environment? Forcing others to do what you are not willing to do yourself is morally repugnant, yet that is exactly what NVV is proposing with this Initiative.

I cannot understand how four NVV representatives, led by Linda Reiff, president of NVV, think they can secretly negotiate this initiative with two members from Vision 2050 and not realize the harm they’ve done to our industry, their organization and themselves.

On Sept. 1, the NVV filed this proposed ballet initiative with Napa County and then waited four days before informing their members. The NVV’s 525 members were never informed nor asked for input before the NVV submitted the initiative. This process was underhanded for sure, poor governance by any standard and utterly unprofessional.

It is especially disturbing that no stakeholders representing oak woodlands property or hillside vineyardists were present to add insight and defend their rights. Additionally, the Wine Growers, the Grapegrowers and the Farm Bureau were also excluded and lied to by omission, thus bringing into question issues of trust and integrity that may jeopardize any future NVV cooperation amongst these groups. Maybe if a more diverse group of stakeholders had been involved the folly of trying to placate Vision 2050 would have been avoided.

I oppose this initiative because it’s not good for Napa County nor the Napa wine industry. Initiatives are an important tool when government fails to do its job correctly. That is not the case in Napa County. We have a beautiful valley with some of the most environmentally sensitive farmers anywhere in the world. The Napa River is one of the cleanest and most diverse rivers in Northern California because of the wine industry’s stewardship.

Oak tree protection is not needed because any conversion of land to vineyard must obtain an Erosion Control Plan permit, which allows county planners to review all relevant environmental issues.

While development of new homes and buildings will not be prohibited, the initiative will markedly increase costs in those areas containing even a few oak trees. Requiring a county permit to cut down a single oak 5 inches in diameter is ridiculous. Requiring a “Use Permit” costing thousands of dollars to cut 10 oaks or more in one year on your property is ludicrous.

Napa County is a “right-to-farm” county, and if this initiative passes, it will dramatically curtail the growth of our wine industry by prohibiting new vineyards in the oak woodlands and may weaken the longstanding public resolve that Napa County agriculture is the highest and best use of the land.

I am asking that NVV members reconsider what is in the best long-term interest of our valley and our wine industry and withdraw this ill-conceived and divisive initiative.

Stuart Smith

St. Helena

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